Australian medical journal says no to drug industry advertising

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 08 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d884
  1. Melissa Sweet
  1. 1Sydney

A medical journal’s decision to stop accepting pharmaceutical advertisements has prompted calls for journal publishers to break their links with the drug industry.

An editorial in the latest Emergency Medicine Australasia (doi:10.1111/j.1742-6723.2010.01393) says that the journal’s move is a response to growing evidence about the detrimental effects of the drug industry in medicine, including claims that the industry distorts research findings and engages in dubious and unethical publishing practices.

George Jelinek, a former editor of the journal, and Anthony Brown, editor in chief, wrote, “Marketing of drugs by the pharmaceutical industry, whose prime aim is to bias readers towards prescribing a particular product, is fundamentally at odds with the mission of medical journals.”

The editorial says that the industry spends vast sums on advertising, which has been shown to change doctors’ prescribing practices. A study referred to in the editorial showed that spending on advertising generates on average $US5 in revenue per dollar spent.

“Meanwhile doctors (and indeed journal editors) generally deny that they are influenced, yet clearly they are,” write the authors. They also say that journals have contributed to the problem by soliciting drug advertising from the industry.

Professors Jelinek and Brown say that the specialty of emergency medicine is able to take a lead on this issue because, “unlike many other specialty groups, such as cardiologists and oncologists, we are not particularly targeted by the drug companies, as we prescribe in the short- rather than the long-term.”

Professor Jelinek declined to tell the BMJ how much income would be lost to the journal but said that the loss would not be a “huge hit” and that readers could afford to pay a little more for the journal.

“It’s OK for doctors to have to pay more for their professional education,” he said. “We get well paid.”

Peter Mansfield, a GP and the director of the pressure group Healthy Skepticism, welcomed the journal’s move and said that research evidence indicated that stopping drug industry advertising would result in lower healthcare costs and better healthcare.

He encouraged other journals to take similar steps and to rethink their business models.

“I do think it’s a landmark event,” Dr Mansfield said. “Change can be like an earthquake: for a long time forces build up, but nothing changes until the earth tremors before the big quake. History may show that this was a tremor heralding major change.”

Ian Kerridge, a haematologist and director of the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine at the University of Sydney, welcomed the move as a “valuable first step” that should be taken more widely. But journals should do much more to disentangle themselves from industry, he added.

He said, “Most of the revenue journals get is not from advertising but from industry buying reprints or supplements of RCTs [randomised controlled trials] that they sponsor,” he said.

The industry body Medicines Australia said that the editorial’s assertions were “a gross misrepresentation” of the relation between the industry and healthcare professionals. In a statement its chief executive, Brendan Shaw, said that advertising in medical journals was a legitimate means of keeping doctors abreast of the choice of new drugs available to them.

He said, “Pharmaceutical companies play an important role in educating doctors and other health professionals about the medicines they manufacture to help ensure their products are being used in the market correctly.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d884


  • Competing interest: MS has an honorary appointment at the University of Sydney and is a co-investigator on a research project with Professor Kerridge.

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